Being Mortal-Dr.Atul Gawande


More and more people from various walks of life should write. About their passion in life, their dreams, their ideas, their vision. It is beautiful to encounter a quote from Philip Roth and Tolstoy in the book of a brilliant doctor. It is my favourite story that he refers to: The death of Ivan Ilyich. The quote is from Roth’s novel,”Everyman”. Dr. Atul Gawande enchants by his simplicity of writing, depth of perception, precise analysis of issues and his erudite and benevolent approach. I am referring to the book, ” Being Mortal.” Suffice it to say, my perspective shifted a bit; it hit me that most often than not, certain behaviour  from loved ones, is not intentional or cruel- they are the signs of inexorable decay in bodily functions. My bitterness lessened a little, tempered by the good doctor’s sentences.

Dr.Atul Gawande, the blurb informs me, is an author of three best selling books, namely, Complications, Better and The Checklist Manifesto. He is a Professor in Harvard Medical School and in Harvard School of Public Health and works as the Director of Ariadne Labs. He has won the Lewis Thomas Prize for writing about Science, the famous MacArthur Fellowship and two National Magazine Awards.

I am half way through the book, which explores Medicine and What matters in the end- where Dr.Gawande speaks on old age and dying and understanding systems and policies that exist, and more importantly the policies that we should rethink about. I picked it up, because he started off with Tolstoy, in the very first page. A doctor who can quote from classic literature, well, maybe what he had to say would not be so intimidating, I thought. It was a good hunch by the way.

Different people have different coping styles, when they face aggression. Some fight, some rebel vociferously, some go silent, some try logic, some try love and understanding. I have proceeded from the first two to the third, at this stage of life. I reflected that I  handle overt or covert aggression, perceived or real,  from near or distant people, who might have a propensity to hurt by behaviour, thought, word or deed,  with one proven strategy: with a freezing silence. After reading Dr.Gawande, I started wondering whether it was time to move on to the next few steps.  At least  to change my usual defence mechanism with those near and dear, who cannot help their own behaviour due to ageing. For that thought alone, this wonderful book has been worth it.

A life without choices, a life with nothing left to live for, a life sanitised and safe- what are the options we give to the ageing,he asks. At page 125, he has already forced me to rethink Maslow’s hierarchy when it comes to ageing population. In my own self. Why do we value, what we value?  I start to understand the fierce need for independence in some, the equal search for connection, the frustrating balancing act, why people behave the way they do…how it all applies to one’s own self.

Let me thank Dr.Gawande. Thank you, for making me pause and reflect. By the way, when someone dear rambled on and on about unconnected things, and started going haywire, I remembered your wise book and gently disengaged myself without any harshness. With understanding of where that was coming from. That it had nothing to do with me personally. In a second, my perspective shifted from simmering resentment to empathy. I bid a loving good bye.That left the promise of tomorrow. Gift enough for the day.


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